Ex-US intelligence officer charged in Iran espionage case

Media playback is unsupported on your device                  Media caption Iranians braved the snow in Tehran to mark their country's 1979 Islamic Revolution

"Our intelligence professionals swear an oath to protect our country, and we trust them to uphold their oath", said Assistant Attorney General John Demers, who leads the Justice Department's National Security Division.

According to charges unsealed on Wednesday by the justice department on Wednesday she defected to Iran in August 2013, taking with her details of USA counter-intelligence agents she had worked with, who were then targeted by Iranian hackers, four of whom are named in the indictment and charged alongside Witt.

Witt, who served in the US Air Force from August 1997 to March 2008 and worked from 2008 to 2010 as a government contractor on classified projects, had access to sensitive government materials, officials said.

Monica Witt allegedly turned over classified information about U.S. intelligence officers after defecting to Iran in 2013, according to a newly unsealed indictment.

The Justice Department has issued arrest warrants for Witt and the four Iranians, who all remain at large.

When warned by the Federal Bureau of Investigation that trip that Iranian intelligence services were trying to recruit her, Witt allegedly promised that she would not talk about her counterintelligence work if she returned to Iran.


She also researched private information about colleagues she had worked with and created what the government says were "target packages" for use by the Iranian government.

"She made a decision to turn against the United States and shift her loyalty to the government of Iran", Tabb said. USA officials also imposed sanctions on an Iran firm, Net Peygard Samavat Company, that it said conducted the hacking operation, and Iranian events company, New Horizon Organization, that it said works to recruit foreign attendees.

They declined to say to what extent these disclosures compromised USA intelligence operations targeting Iran. "Following her defection to Iran in 2013, she is alleged to have revealed to the Iranian government the existence of a highly classified intelligence collection program and the true identity of a U.S. intelligence officer, thereby risking the life of this individual". That event, which court papers say is sponsored by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, promotes an anti-American viewpoint.

Jay Tabb, the FBI's executive assistant director for national security, said investigators believe Witt shared information that "could cause serious damage to national security", though he declined to provide specific details of the operations she allegedly disclosed. US officials believe she is still in Iran.

As part of its action, the United States sanctioned two Iran-based firms - New Horizon Organization and Net Peygard Samavat Company - and several individuals associated with the two groups. She returned to Iran in 2013 and was provided housing and computer equipment by Iranian officials.

A few days later, Witt wrote to the same person, "I think I can slip into Russian Federation quietly if they help me and then I can contact wikileaks from there without disclosing my location".

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